Instinct and Improvisation

by Terry B on February 7, 2007

Roasted pears and onions pair nicely with pork tenderloin. Recipe below.

Okay, this is the second week in a row I’m talking about pork. For those of you who don’t eat it for religious, cultural or dietary reasons, please bear with me. I promise next week’s post will be 100% pig-free. For those of you who don’t eat pork because “I just don’t like it” [picture someone delivering this line with a pinched face and a whiny voice], what’s not to like about a one stop source for chops, ribs, roasts, a dazzling international array of sausages, hams and bacon, for crying out loud?

This is also the second week in a row I’m using fruit in a savory dish, this time pears. As far as I’m concerned, another reason to like pork is how nicely it plays with fruits and fruit juices.

As a quick aside, Mimi of French Kitchen in America just featured pears in a savory treatment, sort of, at her blog. A delicious sounding Pear-Ginger Crisp with Salted Almond Topping. I’ve had a link to Mimi’s blog in my Food Stuff section for some time now, but I’ve been remiss in not flat out telling people to visit it. You’ll find lots of great food and great writing there, including wonderful memories of her French grandmother. Mimi is a generous, charming hostess. Go there.

Another quick aside. See Other Notes at the end of the recipe for a tip about another great food blog.

Okay, back to the kitchen. Mimi recently did a post on chef James Haller’s instinctive approach to cooking. The more I cook, the more I understand instinct. More often than not, as I look at recipes these days [in cookbooks, online, in magazines], I find a technique or an intriguing pairing of ingredients that will have me improvising a completely different dish in my head. That’s one of the things that keeps cooking exciting for me.

It’s also how this recipe came about. Normally, I’m a stovetop kind of guy. Searing, sautéing, braising, stewing—anything you can do in a good, heavy pan over a gas flame—I’m all over it. But we had a couple of pork tenderloins that weren’t getting any younger, and Marion wasn’t finding time to do anything with them. And yeah, I could have sliced them into medallions and sautéed away, but I thought I should work on some roasting skills. Besides, it’s as cold as a witch’s, er, bazoom in Chicago right now. Firing up the oven to a toasty 400ºF for a while sounded like a good idea.

I started at epicurious.com. A quick search of “pork tenderloin” netted more than 100 recipes. I clicked through on maybe a dozen or so, looking for ingredients, seasonings, cooking times and temperatures and whatever else caught my eye. Next I raided the fridge and pantry to see what I had on hand, then headed for the store. I’d pretty much mapped out a recipe in my head and continued to refine it as I gathered the ingredients I needed. The end result wasn’t based on any one recipe I’d looked at—it was something I’d created after seeing various ways pork tenderloins could be cooked. It turned out so well [if I say so myself] that I’ll fix it again sometime. For company. I’ll also find new ways to work with this excellent cut.

Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Pears and Onions
Serves 4

2 1-pound pork tenderloins
1 or 2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 small onions, peeled and quartered
2 unpeeled pears, cored and quartered [see Kitchen Notes]
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Herbes de Provence
1 cup homemade chicken stock or canned low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup port wine
1-1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard [see Kitchen Notes]

Sprinkle tenderloins on all sides with salt and pepper and spread minced garlic over them. Wrap tenderloins in plastic wrap or bag and refrigerate for at least four hours and up to overnight.

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Gently toss onions and pears in a large bowl with 1 tablespoon olive oil and a little salt and pepper.

Heat a large lidded roasting pan or ovenproof lidded skillet over medium high flame. Add remaining 2 tablespoons oil and brown tenderloins on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Remove pan from heat. Arrange pears and onions around tenderloins and sprinkle Herbes de Provence over everything. Cover pan and place in oven. Roast for about 30 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer inserted diagonally into thickest part of tenderloin registers 155ºF.

Transfer tenderloins to platter and tent with foil. Using slotted spoon, transfer pears and onions to bowl and cover. Place pan on burner over medium high heat. Add broth and port wine to pan and scrape up browned bits. Boil mixture until it reduces by about half, about 5 to 8 minutes. Whisk in mustard, thoroughly mixing.

Slice tenderloins into 3/4-inch medallions and arrange on plates with pears and onions—onion quarters will break apart, and that’s okay. Drizzle sauce over everything.

Kitchen Notes

Pears. My first choice was Bosc pears, just for their appearance. But when I was shopping to make this dish, the Bartletts at the produce market looked better, so I used them. I’m sure D’Anjous would also work.

Mustard. The first time or so I added mustard to a sauce like this, I expected a pronounced mustard taste. You don’t get that. It just livens the sauce up a bit. In this dish, the chicken broth didn’t take over, either—no chicken soup flavor here. I give at least some credit to the fact that I used a low sodium broth and that I used as much port as I did broth. All the flavors blended together for a delicious sauce shaped primarily by the port and Herbes de Provence, but not overpoweringly so.

Other Notes

I’ve added another food blog to my links in Food Stuff, My Madeleine. It’s the work of Brooklyn blogger Molly. The smart, thoughtful, wide-ranging writing alone would be enough to recommend it—stories of taste, memory and experience. But Molly’s own story has shaped it into the unique site it is today: A little over a year ago, she was in an accident that essentially wiped out her sense of smell. I’m glad to report it is beginning to return. Here’s how she describes her own blog now: “What began as the record of a fledgling culinary career now continues as one of recovery while I slowly regain a damaged sense of smell.”

Don’t think you’re in for a Lifetime Channel experience, though. Whether she’s baking bread at home or walking past bags of garbage on her way to the subway, she describes her returning sense of smell with equal zeal. Entertaining, engaging stuff. Read it.

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{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Lydia February 7, 2007 at 1:13 am

Well, those of us who don’t eat pork will have to wait it out another week! Thanks, though, for introducing us to both Mimi and Molly, whose blogs are favorites of mine, too.

Terry B February 7, 2007 at 1:50 am

Lydia—I think this dish [or approach] would probably work nicely with whole chicken legs too, although you might need to use a fat separator to remove some of the grease from the cooking juices before making your sauce.

Interestingly, pork producers have worked so hard to make their product lean and healthy that roasts and chops generally have very little fat. In fact, top chefs have become incensed with this, saying it makes the pork less flavorful and too dry, and have taken to having pigs raised the old-fashioned way for their restaurants.

Mimi February 7, 2007 at 4:05 am

Thank you, Terry B, for the mention and also the link to Molly — another new kitchen for me to explore.

I never get tired of pork. Or Herbes de Provence. Or mustard.

I must try this.

Patricia Scarpin February 7, 2007 at 2:15 pm

Terry,

I love (love, love, love) bacon but that’s pretty much all the pork I’ll eat.

But I have to comment on your post anyway – the dish looks amazing, choosing pears was a very smart and delicious move, and the sauce… Well, the sauce sounds perfect to me.

Thank you for introducing Molly’s blog, I’ll be checking it later.

Are those intense green vegetables okras?

Carolyn February 7, 2007 at 2:43 pm

Terry, the roast looks fantastic and I can smell its savory goodness all the way from Chicago. I liked your comments about mustard. When I discovered dried mustard, I put it in everything to see how it changed my recipes. I settled on a favorite: noodles, Velveeta (don’t sigh) and dried mustard. Amazing taste.

Terry B February 7, 2007 at 4:21 pm

Patricia—Yes, it’s okra. In the U.S., it’s primarily found in southern cooking, and it’s often sliced up and thrown into a tomato-based stew where it’s cooked to death. But steamed quickly and seasoned with just a little salt, they’re delicious. Cook them whole and slice the tops off as you eat them.

Carolyn—You can probably hear me sighing all the way from Chicago. Still, it sounds like true comfort food. Next time, try a little tarragon or Herbes de Provence in it too, no more than half a teaspoon. See what you think.

sher February 9, 2007 at 1:01 am

I love pork–and your dish is fabulous looking. I think the pears and port would taste quite nice with it. The more I look at your beautiful picture, the hungrier I’m getting.

Margarette Rona February 11, 2007 at 12:41 am

i prefer pork over beef, and even chicken. and the photo u posted doesnt make it easier for me to like it less! (i agree with sher).

Susan at Food "Blogga" February 12, 2007 at 10:19 pm

Yeah! I found you again Terry B! FYI-when I tried to link back to your site from the comment you left on mine, it wasn’t working. I finally found a comment you left somewhere else and the link worked.

Though I’m a vegetarian, I make pork for my husband, and he would love this rich and savory dish. It looks lovely.

Toni February 13, 2007 at 7:36 pm

Terry,
This is the first time I’m visiting your site, but it seems we have a number of blogging friends in common. I’m fairly new to blogging, and I just found Mimi’s site last week. What a wonderful, generous woman!

Anyway, I wanted to say that I love your thinking about food – that reading a recipe gives you ideas for pairings which don’t necessarily show up in the recipe. My late husband taught me to cook, and that was the way he looked at it too.

Love pork, and I love it with fruit. Wanted to take fork and knife to screen – great photography!! Great post! I’ll definitely be coming back for more.

peabody February 17, 2007 at 11:34 am

Wow, that looks really moist and tender.

Kalyn March 25, 2007 at 3:36 pm

This does sound wonderful, and I agree that Mimi is great.

Pam April 7, 2007 at 3:16 pm

Hi, I just found you from a mention on The Paupered Chef. I’ve loved everything I’ve read so far and your photos are mouthwaterinnnngggg – I might even say a close rival to Heidi Swanson at 101 Cookbooks blog! I never have Port around, I wonder how pomegranite juice would do as a replacement? Anyway, just wanted to compliment you on a great site, I’ll be back often…

Terry B April 8, 2007 at 1:45 am

Thanks for the compliment, Pam! My only concern about the juice is that it might be a little sweet. But pomegranate is fairly tart, so I’d go ahead and give it a shot. Let me know how it turns out.

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